Grappling With Raymond Chandler and the B.I.G. Sleep

Here is Marlowe from The Big Sleep evincing a machismo that quickly wears thin:


"Don't kid me, son. The fag gave you one. You've got a nice clean manly little room in there. He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors. He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men. Think I can't figure people like him and you out?"

I still held his automatic more or less pointed at him, but he swung on me just the same. It caught me flush on the chin. I backstepped fast enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of the punch. It was meant to be a hard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

It's not so bad that our hero is a homophobe who likes to seems to enjoy slapping women around. I don't really believe that heroes need be "heroic" in any earnest sense of the word. What feels off is Chandler's gaze—not his hero's actions. The thin toughness of Marlowe, the display of women in the novel is masturbatory. 

Chandler's style reminds of Biggie Smalls circa Life After Death, with all the attendant merits and demerits. I read Marlowe and think of Biggie's Frank White from "Niggas Bleed." The relationship between protagonist and author is roughly the same. 

This is not a very easy read.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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